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As Pirates Start AAC Schedule, Style Points will Count in Voters’ Minds

Do it with Style: Cap'n Carden has to have a big game...again. Bolster the rankings and his Heisman bid.
Do it with Style: Cap’n Carden has to have a big game…again. Bolster the rankings and his Heisman bid.

Remember this when dreaming about an ECU dream season: Style Matters.

There is no way to sugar-coat the next five weeks. ECU will be overwhelming favorites in each of its next four games – and likely to be double-digit type favorites. With aspirations of moving up from its current #22 spot in the latest Associated Press College Football Poll, the Pirates will need to do more than win these games – starting with a home clash against winless and hapless Southern Methodist on Saturday (a nationally-televised, noon start in DFS) – they will need to win them convincingly. As in…convincing not only the AP pollsters, but also the College Football Playoff committee, who will be looking for overwhelming statistical evidence in games where the playoff candidates are the clear favorites.

In many ways, SMU is the perfect team to play to start the AAC following a highly-successful, albeit brutal and emotionally draining three game OOC stretch that saw the Pirates blow a game at South Carolina, knock off a then-ranked Virginia Tech team at the Terror Dome, and throttle a then-ranked (though no one knows why) UNC-CH team in a game where the Pirates set all time total offense records. The bye week, while maybe not welcome news to a hot-running team, is probably a perfectly timed as possible. Now, the Pirates need to get rolling again and this game is positioned in a way to allow the team to crank back up and hit cruising speed over the next several weeks, as the games are stacked in an increasing level of difficulty for ECU. The Pirates follow the SMU game by going to South Florida, then have another bye week, then host UConn in a big ESPN Thursday nighter before heading off to Philly for a solid Pirates WTF candidate game against an athletic Temple team. Four games where the Pirates will be heavily favored. Four games that can provide a manageable and steady climb up the AP rankings as ECU slowly builds up steam for a huge clash at Cincinnati.

This slate is really sets up nicely allowing the Pirates to ramp up each week for the next one while teams ahead of us in the polls start hitting their biggest tests. It is there for the taking, but for ECU, starting with Southern Methodist, BUT…style points COUNT huge.

While I am certain that Coach Ruffin McNeill and his staff will have the team jacked up for its debut game in the American Conference, it is another group of folks that I hope are equally up for this weekend.

It would be far-too-easy for the fans, alumni and students who comprise the Pirate Nation to stay caught up in the euphoria of the complete domination – again – of the North Carolina Tar Heels the last time out and given the fact that rivalry cuts across families, friendships, and livelihoods, it is understandable. I am still getting emails and seeing a lot of chatter about this game. If anyone will be tested this weekend, it will be the fans. The need could not be greater for Pirate Nation to sell out the game this weekend to once again show the nation what a visiting team must contend with each time they dare to visit Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

If we want to be considered among the elites, this is a facet in which we must consistently succeed. Another nationally televised game and another opportunity for our own people to put our actions where our mouths are. This is the AAC debut game and we need to show Central Florida and the nation who owns the title of top fans it this new league for the Pirates.

Skeleton Crew: Even our crowd has become nationally known...these gals get it! But the other 49,994 fans need to be there, too.
Skeleton Crew: Even our crowd has become nationally known…these gals get it! But the other 49,994 fans need to be there, too.

Considered the gauntlet down on this topic.

Visiting this weekend is a team that from every aspect of analysis short of our kids all getting sick, forgetting where the stadium is, or outright total failure on all fronts…aside total meltdown…there is nothing that should keep ECU out of the W column this weekend. SMU…they got nothing. A broken team with nothing left in the gas tank even early in the season. You can’t find anything that appears to be a threat. Before June Jones left the building, they were bad and in the ensuing chaos, they are worse then bad.

In my way-too-early season prediction, previously posted here, I predicted a comfortable win for this game, but after the watching SMU (0-4) over the weeks this season…I don’t see how this game is close…at all. Now, of course, you play the game for a reason. Our kids have been basking in the glow of positive national press and most surely should be feeling a little more intensity now that the team is ranked and is being followed more closely. In the past, our team has not always handled being in this position very well…for whatever reason. So there is always what has become known at least in my circles as the ECU WTF game. I really do not see any way the Mustangs will provide this moment.

There is really no need to analyze the stats other than these two:

  • Total D: Dead last, giving up 50+ points a game.
  • Total O: Dead last, scoring just 3 points a game.

This one could be another scoring-fest for the Pirates and hopefully, sees another game where the younger Pirates can get in and run the show, building depth and preparing for future campaigns.

Yes, Style Points Count for the Pirates.

Remember, the committee will look at statistics and memory sometimes is a tricky thing. The Pirates’ will sky-rocket statistically over the next 4 games which will put our O and D in lofty positions nationally. The early games will be the “wow” factor and the stats will be the back-up data. So, our team needs to go into this game setting a high bar for performance.

As for the polls, there will be some movement this weekend given some of the matches. Above the Pirates in the AP poll, there are matchups:

  • #3 Alabama at #11 Ole Miss
  • #5 Auburn vs #15 LSU
  • #6 Texas A&M @ #12 Mississippi State
  • #9 Notre Dame vs #14 Stanford
  • #10 Michigan State vs #19 Nebraska

Six teams ahead of us are going to get tagged with a loss. If the favorites win, then ECU with a convincing victory could take a large step up. And, there are a few other games that can help the Pirates. I do not expect #20 Ohio State to come back from a trip to Maryland with a win. And, I would not be surprised if Utah gives #UCLA a game as well. This weekend should send the AP poll on a wild ride since so many ranked teams are playing one another. At least 3 undefeated teams will no longer be undefeated.

Remain intense: Coach Ruff will be ready...will the players be as intense??
Remain intense: Coach Ruff will be ready…will the players be as intense??

Coach Ruff and his staff will spend this week working the Mustangs reputation up to playoff contender to ensure the team is ready not only to win, but win convincingly. IMO, the biggest factor going to this playing out properly is that this team’s senior leaders, while short in number, are big in presence. Don’t expect the likes of Shane Carden, Justin Hardy, Breon Allen, Terry Williams, Brandon Williams, and Chrishon Rose to allow either side of the ball the luxury of getting it done and done well. At the end of the day, it must appear like another day at the office for the Pirates against an over-matched visiting team.

I think we are all in for a real treat over the next 5 weeks, with the Pirates rolling and the nation watching. Hopefully Pirate Nation will do its part and have the stands looking like they did when UNC-CH visited.

Let me hear your thoughts all.

18 comments on “As Pirates Start AAC Schedule, Style Points will Count in Voters’ Minds

  1. Huge mental challenge for all involved as you write. Some players will get caught up in the hype. Just a natural when 65 or so young guys are playing. Spot on re your leadership angle though among the players. This is a game for those leaders, not just coaches, to ensure focus on the bigger task at hand. I think they will.

    • Thanks for stopping in Factoid.

      You got that right…65 young guys…you never know what you are going to get sometimes.

      I think they roll this weekend.

      Go Pirates. Go!

  2. I agree that we need to win and win big. Many of our fans have already counted the wins heading to the Cinci game, but given our history we need to take it one game at a time. I will not be surprised to see SMU put some points on the board as they’ve driven the ball in other games and just come up short a few times, or had that costly turnover. Building depth would be nice but IMO we can’t do that at the expense of putting up the numbers and getting that blowout victory. It would be ashame if the backups came in and gave up 2 or 3 late scores and hurt our margin of victory. We also have to be careful not to get anyone injured as we lack depth in some areas. Hopefully we get to find out how Ruff and the staff will handle the balancing act of putting up the numbers and getting playing time for the reserves.

    • Hi Chris…thanks for dropping in…

      You bring up another element of this that I didn’t give a lot of thought to…injuries (potential). We need to ensure that we do not get a player hurt if we, indeed, race out to a big lead.

      It is a balancing act for sure because as we agreed, the score and how well we dominate from the outside looking in will matter in regards to how much the national powerbrokers give the Pirates credit for a win against a very poor team.

      I like to think that a 4th string QB will not carve up our defense – even backups – but certainly know that history is not on our side in closing out games properly!

      Thanks for reading Chris…

      Go Pirates, Go!

  3. The best thing about playing an 0-4 SMU team is the game is in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. The home crowd (along with the seniors) will keep the Pirates from playing down to their AAC opponent.

  4. You feel the exact same way about the Temple game as I do. It’s just looming out there waiting for us to show up with a sloppy effort, against a team that’s better than people give them credit for, and potentially could provide the same result we had against Tulane last year. They remind me a lot of that Tulane team as well. Strong defense, athletic QB, and of course most troubling they play in an NFL stadium that will be relatively empty. This is the type of game that’s tripped up more ECU teams than I care to remember. Hopefully the guys remember exactly what happened at Tulane last year and don’t let it occur again.

    • Hi Mike…thanks for sharing.

      Your choice of Tulane is a perfect one…for the reasons you defined. That was not a bad Tulane team last year, particularly defensively, but talent-wise, we should have never have allowed that game to be close. And it hurt us…

      I am hoping that what we have here is a different type of mentality in the leaders on this team. The younger guys will feed off the Carden and Hardy-types.

      I feel like it just takes one cycle of breaking the WTF game tradition and we will grow as a program. We shall see, but right now, my biggest worry game is Temple and you are right…the emptiness of the Linc will be a factor.

      Best regards and go Pirates!

  5. Ralph Wright

    I don’t think the ingredients are here for our annual WTF game. We are at home for a big HC weekend and the kids know they are on ESPNU. They will be stoked to perform well in front of the fans and the nation. Beast mode.

    • Hi Ralph…

      “Beast mode”…I like it. Gonna use it in the future.

      I also like the idea of a season without a WTF game.

      Cheers (not too early for that, right?)

  6. Blackbeard's Ghost

    Spot on RC!
    If you think back to the” old ” college football days when pollsters voted on teams based on how many points they destroyed their competition, this ECU team feels like it is in that type of situation.
    Remember the old Oklahoma Sooners teams back in the 80’s that would routinely beat their “underwhelming” opponents 77-10 and 63-0 etc. It wasn’t about who they beat but how bad they destroyed them that made polls vote them higher.
    We need to keep that mentality in order to make as much noise given our schedule. And who knows what may become…
    Talk to ya soon brother!
    Let’s Go Pirates!!

    • Great analogy BBG…those OU teams definitely poured it on.

      Hitting 70 points for right or wrong elevated the conversation nationally about our Pirates. Would love to aim for that over the next several games.

      Win first, but as I said, style points matter IMO.

      Always love hearing from you BBG and thanks for sharing my stuff over on HTC…!

      Go Pirates, Go!

  7. Nice work Ron: Not a big fan of games like these and agree with all of the posters. All it takes is one cheap shot by a player who is fed up with getting a beat down week in and week out to change our season.

    The other issue is that a team like Nebraska is given a free pass and credit for beating a McNeese State team at home in the last minuet while an ECU squad would drop out of the polls for beating an SMU by a couple of touchdowns. The measuring stick for us is always going to be different.

    We have shown we have the ability to play with just about anyone for a game but have failed to show with the exception of 83′ and 91′ that we can sustain that for an entire season.

    Last year the planets aligned themselves for what I feel should have been a 12 win season yet we only won 10, giving away the Tulane game and suffering a beat down at Marshall. We as a program have been given a mulligan as it appears the AAC is not as strong as it was last season.

    Being ranked is a huge blessing just as it can be a distraction. I love the fact that the eyes of the country are on our program. That some of our kids and coaches will get the credit and exposure they worked hard for and earned. I love the fact that the P5 programs and press are asking why not ECU. Our staff and players need to understand that all of this goes away with a loss.

    Taking things one game at a time is easy for us to say but tough for players and coaches to accept. If I’m Ruff I break out the game tapes of the Marshall and Tulane games after this weekend and remind our guys that were not good enough to mail it in. That our team, thanks to their efforts from the first 4 weeks have been given a 2nd chance to take the program to the next level by bringing it each week. That is what got us to this position today and by staying focused the program can reach heights that it has never seen.

    Cheers and go Pirates

    • Hey DCP28…

      Always enjoy your analysis…

      I agree…would be wise for Ruff to put those two tapes in from last year…

      Here’s to seeing the Pirates get it done and done right this weekend!

      Best regards and Go Pirates!

  8. Ed Keller

    I’m confident my son and I will be quite relaxed in The Fick by
    halfway through the second quarter.

    • Hi Ed…

      I like that confidence…share your opinion. Not able to get down for HC but will be watching on the tube wishing I was there.

      Go Pirates, Go!

  9. Ed Keller

    A bit more drama than i would have liked. It seemed like the LBs and 2ndary weren’t ready for all the shallow passes.

    • Hi Ed…

      Looked to me like Rick Smith went ahead and traded lead protection for opportunity to really shut down SMU. Had he opted to press cover the wide receivers (more risky), I think we see more early 3 and outs from them and their QB never gets into rhythm, IMO.

      Was disappointed in the D but overall, did what we were supposed to do.


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